Councils must submit draft plans for use of the government’s superfast broadband allocation fund by the end of February, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has said.
The government has allocated a £530m investment pot for local authorities to provide 90% of homes and businesses with access to superfast broadband and everyone with access to at least 2Mbps. The funding is to be matched by private sector investment.
Hunt said: “Some local authorities will find these to be challenging targets. But I will not allow the UK to fall behind in rolling-out superfast broadband. Superfast broadband is simply too important for creating the growth we need to allow the roll-out to be delayed.
But concerns have been raised that the private sector may not be willing to match funds in some rural areas, due to concerns around the commercial viability of such investments.
Glyn Evans, president of the local government IT user group Socitm, said: “In the current environment of austerity getting investment anywhere, from both the public and private sector is not the easiest task. But the reality is that unless we improve infrastructure in the UK, we are never going to keep pace with [other countries] who have a far more advanced infrastructure. Broadband is as important to the future of the UK as the transport infrastructure.”
Lyndon Gurr, technical lead for broadband at Kent County Council, said: “Our current experience with funding is that although challenging, we should raise sufficient investment from the private sector.”
“Another challenging issue is being able to document the level of demand and getting all the rural communities on board to measure demand. Because if we don’t have that we can’t demonstrate to suppliers there is that level of business.”
Alice Barnard, chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, welcomed the targets: “The announcement of a deadline for councils to submit their broadband plans is a very welcome development that should inject some much needed momentum into the roll-out of rural broadband.